The SUNY New Paltz College Council voted four to three February 21 to remove the names of the Huguenot families Hasbrouck, Bevier, Crispell, Deyo, DuBois and LeFevre from a complex of New Paltz campus buildings constructed in the 1950s because the individuals owned other humans as slaves. New names for the five dorms and a dining hall are expected at the next meeting.
The renaming must be ratified by the SUNY board of trustees, so it could be summertime before the current names are actually removed.
SUNY New Paltz president Donald Christian has championed this cause in recent years, but the issue has been broached now and again since before the turn of the century. Christian tasked members of the college’s diversity and inclusion council to return a recommendation, and that report was submitted last May. That group considered a resolution to remove the Huguenot names at its November meeting, but after hearing lengthy testimony from many members of the campus community decided to delay the vote until the spring semester. This meeting did not include a public-comment portion.
Many students testified as to how living and eating in buildings named for slave owners impacted their lives. Some opponents said the removal of the names of the first European families to settle in the area could be seen as a slap in the face of the thousands of descendants or an overreaction to the fact that specific individuals did own slaves. Some descendants, including Robert Hasbrouck and Michael Deyo, have noted that a member of the Hasbrouck family represented Sojourner Truth in court when her son was illegally sold. Research revealed that the buildings were, in fact, named to honor the twelve members of the Duzine, the governing body of Huguenot New Paltz, rather than their families generally.
Christian spoke of being moved by the “thoughtful voices of students” both at the prior meeting and since, and urged council members to vote to rename. The president said that a survey created to solicit feedback received more than 3000 responses. “The time is right to take a broader view of our history,” he told the council. He said a “contemplative space” will be created in which the complex history of the college and community will be presented in a fuller way. Creating that space is intended not to erase history but to present it more comprehensively.
Michael Catalinotto, Eleanor Venables and Robert DiCarlo were opposed to the renaming. DiCarlo read a lengthy statement acknowledging slavery as an evil the impacts of which can be felt in various forms of racism to the present day. His own Italian Catholic forebears were also subjected to discrimination, though they had not engaged in slavery in the United States. In DiCarlo’s view, “not all blacks start life disadvantaged” and “we cannot atone for the crimes of the dead” by heaping new punishment upon the living. “Blood guilt” was destructive, and could “produce violence, civil war and mass murder.” He referenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s belief that people should not be judged by the color of their skin.
Catalinotto spoke of how members of those six families struggled to create a European settlement far from their homeland, work which eventually made SUNY New Paltz itself possible. Venables had spoken warmly in November about members of the LeFevre family who did her kindnesses, such as baking her cookies.
Interim chair Eli Basch has the power to break tie votes. Hhis support for the measure was clear. Other than student government president N’Della Seque, Ronald Law is the only African-American council member. He characterized himself as “conflicted,” but did vote in favor. However, he also asked for more time to consider the suggested alternatives.
Vincent Cozzolino headed up the committee seeking name options. Names tied to local history were the most appealing to those in the campus community. Eleven suggestions were proposed: Maratanza, Pond, Awosting, Minnewaska, Mohonk, Hawk, Peregrine, Ashokan, Sunset, Tamarack and Shawangunk halls. The council wanted more time to review the history and meaning of the suggested names before deciding.